toddler at naptime

Create & Maintain A Nap Schedule: How To Be Sure Your Little One Is Sleeping Enough

Every parent knows the look and sound of a baby who needs sleep – they get cranky, uncooperative and unhappy. And that’s a situation and mood best remedied by a firm nap schedule.

In this post, we offer tips for creating and maintaining a consistent nap schedule. There are times you may not be able to follow it to the letter – if you go away on a family holiday, for example – but adhering to it as much as possible is best for your baby or toddler, and best for you, too.

family feeding baby

1) Pay attention to their sleep signals.

Infants and toddlers react largely the same way adults do when they’re overtired – they yawn. Some children tug on their ears, which is a sure sign they are ready for sleep. They get cranky, too. Watch your child for a few days and notice what they do just before nap time. Those clues help you make sure they are headed for the crib before they become overtired.

2) Put them in their crib.

Occasionally you have to lay them down somewhere else — if you’re visiting family out of state, for example. But as much as possible, put your little one to sleep in their crib; familiar surroundings make them feel secure as they doze off. If you aren’t able to for some reason, be sure you have some favorite books to read to them before you tuck them in. A stuffed animal nearby, perhaps, or a sound machine. Anything that looks, sounds, and smells familiar will reduce their anxiety at being in a strange environment.

crib toys

3) Use their schedule as a guide for their naps.

If you notice your little one yawning around nine every morning, let that be your guide for setting the time for their first nap. You may also want to consider the 2 – 3 – 4 nap time guides, as it’s referred to by childcare professionals. It means that, after they’ve been up and active for two hours in the morning, put them in the crib for their first nap. Then, in the early afternoon, keep them active for three hours, followed by their next nap. And finally, once they’ve been on the go for four hours in the late afternoon and early evening, put them to sleep for the night. As they grow older and more able to stay awake for longer periods without getting tired and cranky, you can extend the time they’re up.

4) Don’t let them sleep for too long.

Just as a lack of sleep isn’t good for little ones, neither is sleeping for too long during nap times. Two or three hours, at the very most, is the rule of thumb childcare experts suggest. Leaving them in the crib for long stretches is counterproductive, as they may be awake too long into the early evening.

5) Be sure they’re active when they’re awake

Playing with your child, reading together, and letting them be physically active are all excellent ways of tapping into their energy resources so they’ll be genuinely ready for sleep when nap time comes. Giving them toys, books and a safe place for independent play are great ways to foster development too. Any activity that uses their physical energy and taxes them mentally gets them ready for a nap. All little ones need sleep to β€œrecharge” after a fun game of hide and seek, for example.

toddler using blocks

6) Help them wind down if they’re overstimulated.

It can be a challenge to get a toddler to nap if they’ve just been to a neighborhood birthday party, played games, and had a slice of cake. They get wound up, and it can be hard for them to relax enough to go to sleep right away. In these instances, consider doing the things you do at bedtime – sing lullabies, read to them in a soft voice, or even give them a warm bath. These help them unwind and make getting them to sleep easier.

7) Resist the temptation to wake them too soon.

Let’s say your mother-in-law has popped by for a visit and is anxious to see her grandchild. Instead of letting her peek into the nursery, gently explain it is better to hold off in case it wakes your child. Interruptions like this can throw your child’s sleep routine off, and it may be difficult to get them back on track for several days. Schedule visits, when possible, for times when you know your little one will be awake and active.

8) If you’re worried about anything, check in with your doctor.

There is likely no real problem going on just because your baby or toddler is not napping on a firm schedule quite yet. However, if you’re concerned for any reason, talk to your doctor. Sometimes parents worry needlessly if their child isn’t napping in a certain way they may have read about, or like a friend’s child does. Your baby or toddler is a unique individual – no two children nap in precisely the same way. Still, it’s better to run concerns by your physician if they are truly troubling you.

mommy relaxing with baby

Establishing a routine for your baby or toddler’s naps is beneficial to them in every way, of course, but it’s also important for parents. Nap times give caregivers the opportunity to take care of tasks around the home, make phone calls, answer texts and emails – all the things that are part of running a home and taking care of the family. Just as it’s vital that your child gets lots of rest during the day, it’s also vital for you to have these breaks, too. Achieving a firm nap schedule is the best way for everyone in the home to have time to recharge, so you and your child are ready to begin playing, laughing, and enjoying each other again when nap time is over.